Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

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Richard M Roberts
Godfather
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Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun Apr 19, 2015 11:55 pm

THE NINTH GUEST

Eight people are invited by an anonymous host to a party at a luxurious penthouse apartment where each believes that they are the guests of honor. Upon their arrival, the host does not appear, but a butler turns on the radio in the living room, and a voice announces that the eight guests have been gathered for a game of wit, that they are trapped in the penthouse, and the ninth guest------ is death………

A plot indeed very similar to Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS, except that THE NINTH GUEST as a film was released five years before the publication of Christie’s play/novel, and the novel and play of THE NINTH GUEST (novel by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, play by Owen Davis) came out nine years before Christie’s work.

No matter, because THE NINTH GUEST is a sleek and atmospheric little horror-thriller, though there has been some argument as to whether or not it is a horror film or a mystery thriller by those hair-splitters to whom this kind of stuff matters. William K. Everson gave it an honorable mention in his MORE CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, and the British Censors categorized the film as a “horror” picture and recommended against children seeing it, three years before they began officially dispensing their “H” certificates. Columbia later inserted THE NINTH GUEST’s plot set-up into a straight horror film, the 1939 THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG starring Boris Karloff, yet some of those rigid OCD horror fans have cried foul, feeling it more fitting to the mystery genre.

Whatever little category box one wishes to arrange and label the film into, THE NINTH GUEST is a terrific Columbia programmer with modicums of mystery and malevolence mixed masterfully by one of Columbia’s more solid Directors of the 1930’s, Roy William Neill. Though remembered today by film Buffs as the main Director and guiding hand of Universal’s Sherlock Holmes Series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Neill was a fine Director with decades of Hollywood experience under his belt. Starting in 1915 as an Assistant Director to Thomas H. Ince, Neill was directing on his own the following year and helmed many a major silent feature for a number of studios in the 1920’s. A contract director for Fox from 1925-27, Neill freelanced to the end of the Silent Era, handling things like the Technicolor feature THE VIKING (1928) for MGM, then ending up under contract to Columbia Pictures when Sound came in, handling a number of stylish thrillers and mysteries from THE AVENGER (1931) with Buck Jones, THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER (1933) with Adolph Menjou as Detective Thatcher Colt, the voodoo-tinged BLACK MOON (1934), with Jack Holt, the taught sea-adventure EIGHT BELLS (1935), to THE BLACK ROOM (1935) with Boris Karloff.

Neill returned to England in the late 30’s to make more fun films like DR. SYN (1937) with George Arliss and a number of comedies with Variety Superstar Comic Max Miller.
Neill also started the first and earlier version of THE LADY VANISHES in 1936, running afoul of Yugoslavian Officials (where some of the location work was being done) and finally cancelling the project until Alfred Hitchcock revived it a year later.


The War sent Neill back to America in 1942 where Universal put him back to work on espionage thriller like MADAME SPY (1942), and horror films like FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943) before he took hold of the Sherlock Holmes films, due to his own expertise on Conan Doyle’s famous character. Though set in WW2 Modern Day, between Rathbone and Bruce’s great chemistry, and Neill’s eye for atmosphere and character, the Sherlock Holmes films were some of Universal’s most popular of the 1940’s. When the series ended in 1946, Neill made the very fine film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946), based on a Cornell Woolrich story, and might have become a top-notch noir director if it hadn’t been for his untimely and unexpected death on December 14, 1946 from a heart attack while on a Christmas Holiday in London.

The cast of THE NINTH GUEST is a corking good one of stalwart players, if not necessarily the most distinguished. Donald Cook was another Broadway Actor drawn to talkies in the early 30’s, but seldom rose above secondary leading men or red herrings, though he did get to be the first Ellery Queen in Republic Pictures 1935 film of THE SPANISH CAPE MYSTERY. Cook returned to Broadway in the late 30’s, where, save for a short Hollywood return in 1944-45, he remained, also working in New York Television in the 1950’s. He died in 1961.

Genevieve Tobin was a winsome and charming performer in a number of pre-code pictures, she’s the “Mitzi” Maurice Chevalier sings about in ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932) and gives Jeanette MacDonald a run for her money in enticing Maurice away from his marriage. She also drives Warren William to distraction in the Warners comedy GOODBYE AGAIN (1933), but for some reason, Tobin never became a major star. Stage acting since childhood, some silent films on her resume, a sparkling Broadway name in the 1920’s (she introduced Cole Porter’s “You Do Something to Me” in FIFTY MILLION FRENCHMEN in 1929), Genevieve seemed a shoe-in for pre-code picture headlining. Yet THE NINTH GUEST is practically Tobin’s last lead ingénue role, and though she kept busy in support all through the thirties, she packed it in after a part in MGM’s NO TIME FOR COMEDY in 1940, directed by her husband, William Keighley, whom she had married in 1938. Film Historians and other Buffs always seem to bemoan those actresses who gave up their careers for marriage, but strange, the ones this Author managed to meet who did so always seemed to be the ones who appeared happy, sober, sane, and secure, apart from the fact that they were still alive , unlike so many of their non-retiring counterparts. Tobin and Keighley remained happily spliced until his death in 1984 at the age of 90, and Genevieve continued on for another decade, passing away in 1995 at the age of 96!

We must also give credit to three fine and under-mentioned character actors whose talents brighten THE NINTH GUEST, along with so many, many more films of the 1930’s and 40’s: Edwin Maxwell was everyone’s favorite shyster, quack or lunatic. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1886, Edwin had also been a very busy Broadway actor of the 1920’s brought to talkies where he became a very busy film actor (22 films in 1933 alone), Maxwell had a wonderful poker-faced style that allowed him to play oddballs that may or may not believe the nonsense chicanery he was spouting, but he usually sounded frighteningly plausible. Alternating as both a dialogue director and actor in the 1940’s, Maxwell passed away in 1948 at the age of 62.

Sidney Bracey appeared in literally hundreds of films, going back to his start with the J.C. Williamson Company back in the 1890’s where he started making movies in his native Australia. Coming to America, and also working on Broadway in the 1900’s, Bracey joined the Vitagraph Company around 1909, and remained with them through the early teens. He then joined Thanhouser in 1913 where he played leads in that Company’s two blockbuster early serials, THE MILLION-DOLLAR MYSTERY and ZUDORA in 1914. Bracey later moved to Hollywood and found himself steadily employed, frequently playing Butlers, but handy at essaying pretty much anything, he is probably best remembered today as the Head of the Newsreel Office in Buster Keaton’s THE CAMERAMAN (1928), and as the Film Director who futilely guides Marion Davies through her first screen test in SHOW PEOPLE (1928). Last year at Cinevent, we saw him play a seaman in Roy William Neill’s EIGHT BELLS (1935). Bracey continued a busy bit player until he died in 1942 at the age of 65.

Samuel S. Hinds could always be counted on to portray a doctor or a lawyer, possibly because he had been a lawyer! The Harvard Law School Graduate had thirty-two years of practice before he was wiped out in the Stock Market Crash of `29 and decided to go into a more honorable profession when he was fifty-four years old. Working first on Broadway, Hines went to Hollywood in 1932 and made his first film appearance in Paramount’s IF I HAD A MILLION, and made 214 more films before his death in 1948. His dignified and intelligent demeanor served him well in playing relaxed authority figures with integrity, or usually with integrity, sometime he surprised us at the end, but usually not, such was his type-casting (for example, in the all-star Los Angeles County Board of Health Venereal Disease Film, KNOW FOR SURE (1941), Hines plays the “good “ V.D. Doctor while the crooked quack V.D. Doctor is played by-----who else-------Edwin Maxwell!).

These fine players coupled with smooth and subtle direction by Roy William Neill, as well as shimmering camerawork by veteran Columbia cameraman Benjamin K. Kline, make THE NINTH GUEST an entertaining piece of mysterytainment and should be better remembered than it is.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Mike O'Regan
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Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Mike O'Regan » Sun May 03, 2015 2:52 pm

Sounds A-OK to me. I just sourced a copy.

The same source has Universals Secret of the Chateau (34) also. Have you seen this one? Worth a twist?

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 1891
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun May 03, 2015 5:42 pm

Mike O'Regan wrote:Sounds A-OK to me. I just sourced a copy.

The same source has Universals Secret of the Chateau (34) also. Have you seen this one? Worth a twist?


Yeah, I've got it, we ran it one night here a year or so ago and most thought it a bit lame. Offbeat cast though, including Alice White supporting role again (see notes for LUXURY LINER).

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Mike O'Regan
Posts: 66
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:04 pm

Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Mike O'Regan » Sat May 09, 2015 5:39 pm

...Chateau is pretty forgettable. I found DeWitt Jennings somewhat amusing, but otherwise, the whole thing didn't quite seem to be able to make up it's mind what it was. Rather a curious entry from Universal.

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 1891
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun May 10, 2015 12:46 am

Mike O'Regan wrote:...Chateau is pretty forgettable. I found DeWitt Jennings somewhat amusing, but otherwise, the whole thing didn't quite seem to be able to make up it's mind what it was. Rather a curious entry from Universal.



Pretty much sums up my feelings as well, but have you seen THE NINTH GUEST yet?


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Mike O'Regan
Posts: 66
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:04 pm

Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Mike O'Regan » Sun May 10, 2015 1:43 pm

Richard M Roberts wrote:
Mike O'Regan wrote:...Chateau is pretty forgettable. I found DeWitt Jennings somewhat amusing, but otherwise, the whole thing didn't quite seem to be able to make up it's mind what it was. Rather a curious entry from Universal.



Pretty much sums up my feelings as well, but have you seen THE NINTH GUEST yet?


RICHARD M ROBERTS


No, I'm hoping to watch it this very evening.

Mike O'Regan
Posts: 66
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:04 pm

Re: Cinevent Notes: THE NINTH GUEST (1934)

Postby Mike O'Regan » Sun May 10, 2015 5:46 pm

So, The Ninth Guest...

I enjoyed this one thoroughly. Beautifully atmospheric, tightly directed, it's one I'll plan on watching again in a few years or so. Mindful of all that you wrote above, Richard, a stand-out for me here was Hardie Albright.


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